Jean Claude Van de Velde.
When you hear that name, only one thing comes to mind – his colossal collapse at the 1999 British Open. Van de Velde came to the last hole with a three shot lead. A double-bogey would have won him the tournament. Instead of playing safely, he hit the ball all over the place – off the stands, off stone walls, into a creek, into the weeds, into a bunker – and triple-bogeyed the hole. Not surprisingly, he lost in the three-way playoff that followed.
Fairly or not, the man’s name is synonymous with massive choking.
Last week, I had an article in my head about choking. Unfortunately, actual work kept the article from escaping my noggin, but I was going to write about the curious nature of gagging under pressure and the label of “choker” that so many in the media are willing to throw around. Retief Goosen was a choker for blowing up with an 82 on the last day of the US Open despite having previously won two US titles. Tim Duncan was a choker for sucking in game 5 of the NBA Finals despite having been named NBA Finals MVP twice before (and he went on to win a third a few days later).
Basically, I was going to say that choking is a pretty malleable thing, and rarely as simple as writers want to make it. Few pro athletes honestly qualify as true chokers.
And then Van de Velde did it again.
Yesterday, he came to the 72nd hole of the French Open with a one-shot lead. He promptly drove the ball into the drink. He ended up bogeying the hole and found himself in a playoff with Jean-Francois Remesy.
The first playoff hole was the 18th again. Once again, Van de Velde put his drive in the water (and so did Remesy – gotta love the French). He took his drop and proceeded to knock it around the hole – bunker, rough, short, long, etc. Remesy won the hole (and tournament) with a double-bogey.
Incredible. Greg Norman can thank Van de Velde. Chris Webber and Nick Anderson should send him thank-you cards. Jana Novotna too. The man has simply taken fantastic choking to a whole new level. An art form really.

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